Two Jesuits serving in Moscow, including the Superior of the Russian Region, were found murdered in their Moscow apartment October 28, according to a release from the Jesuits’ press office in Rome.
The murders occurred at different times between October 25 and October 28, the day their bodies were found, according to the release.
Jesuit Fr. Victor Betancourt, an Ecuadorian working at the St. Thomas Philosophical, Theological and Historical Institute in Moscow, was killed in his home, an apartment in downtown Moscow, on Saturday, October 25, according to the Rome office.
The following Monday, according to the release, Jesuit Fr. Otto Messmer, Superior of the Russian Region, was also killed in the apartment after returning from a trip abroad.. The bodies were found Tuesday, October 28, by a Jesuit who lives in another community in Moscow and who, “alarmed by the fact that he hadn’t heard from the two men,” went to visit them, said the release.
Jesuit Fr. Tomas Garcia Huidobro of Chile, who worked with the two men in Moscow last summer, said he knew nothing more of the circumstances of the slayings. Huidobro knew the men well, he said, and described both of them as very kind people.
In answer to a question Huidobro, who is living temporarily in Washington while working on a doctorate, said the Jesuits were well liked among those with whom they worked and that he knew of no enmities between the Jesuits and any elements of Russian society.
“We love Russia,” he said several times. “We respect their customs and we respect the Russian Orthodox Church,” with whom the Jesuit community has cordial relations, he said.
Huidobro, who became interested in Russia a number of years ago and who first lived in Moscow from 1999 to 2001, said he believes the Jesuit presence is important in preparation for “the interreligious dialogue, which is not a reality right now” but that he believes will ultimately occur. He said the institute, which is the only Catholic facility of its kind in Moscow and which contains the only Catholic library in that city, is important in helping to support Catholic life in Russia.
He also said the Jesuit community in Moscow heard confessions and celebrated Mass at local churches.
Huidobro said the office in Rome could not provide an explanation of how the chronology of the deaths was determined. He also said he found it puzzling that such violence could occur without drawing more notice because the Jesuit apartment is across the street from a police station. He also said he discounted robbery as a motive because “there was nothing of value” in the residence.
He said Jesuits from other republics formerly part of the Soviet Union were traveling to Moscow to seek more information about the killings.
Huidobro, who was planning to return to Moscow within the year, said the Jesuits “will not allow this tragedy to interrupt” the society’s ongoing work in Russia.
Fr. Messmer, 47, a Russian citizen, was born in Kazakhstan and entered the Society of Jesus in 1982 and was ordained in 1988. He was appointed superior in 2002.
Fr. Betancourt, 42, was born in Ecuador and entered the society in 1984 and was ordained in 1997. At the time of his death, he was teaching theology at the St. Thomas Institute in Moscow.